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Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir preview Grand Prix Final men’s, pairs competitions

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There was some debate about the Grand Prix Final men’s competition two weeks ago, but now there is a clear favorite.

Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu is expected to become the first man to win three straight titles at the Grand Prix Final, the most prestigious annual figure skating competition outside of the World Championships (in Boston next spring).

The Barcelona event, which features the top six (or seven) skaters per discipline from this fall, takes place this weekend.

Icenetwork.com will provide live coverage of all programs for subscribers. NBC will air coverage Dec. 20 from 4-6 p.m. ET.

Here’s the schedule:

Thursday
Pairs short program — 2:30 p.m. ET
Men’s short program — 3:55 p.m. ET

Friday
Short dance — 1:05 p.m. ET
Pairs free skate — 2:20 p.m. ET
Women’s short program — 3:55 p.m. ET

Saturday
Free dance — 11:25 p.m. ET
Women’s free skate — 1:45 p.m. ET
Men’s free skate — 3 p.m. ET

Here are men’s and pairs previews with thoughts from NBC Olympics analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir:

Men’s Field (Best Grand Prix qualifying total score)
Yuzuru Hanyu
(322.40 WR) — 2014 Olympic, World champ, 2013-14 GPF champ
Javier Fernandez (271.43) — 2015 World champ
Patrick Chan (271.14) — 2011-13 World champ, 2014 Olympic silver medalist
Jin Boyang (266.43) — 2015 World junior silver medalist
Shoma Uno (257.43) — 2015 World junior champ
Daisuke Murakami (252.25) — Grand Prix Final debut

Preview
Japan’s Hanyu is favored to become the first man to win three straight Grand Prix Finals, two weeks after he shattered the short program and free skate records under the decade-old scoring system at NHK Trophy in Japan.

The field includes the last three men to win World titles in Hanyu, Fernandez and Chan.

Spain’s Fernandez, the home-ice favorite who beat Hanyu at last season’s Worlds, was the only singles skater to win both of their Grand Prix series events this fall and could have been the favorite until Hanyu’s effort in Japan.

Chan returned after a one-year break from competition to win Skate Canada (over Hanyu) in October.

Jin and Uno, both born in 1997, are senior-level rookies this season and may be wildcards. Both are known for their strong quadruple jumps.

Lipinski’s Take
“Watching [Hanyu] skate in Japan, it’s hard to imagine what could beat that. But I think if there’s anyone that can beat that, it is Javi. If Yuzu skates the way that he did in Japan, and Javi skates clean, of course it’s going to go to Yuzu. But I feel like Yuzu can’t make that many missteps because Javi with three quads [in a free skate], he’s a threat. I would definitely say it’s Yuzuru’s to lose, but I don’t think it’s as wide of a gap as everyone thinks.”

Weir’s Take
“Riding the high off the performance at Grand Prix Japan, I don’t know how Yuzuru’s going to deal with that. I mean, it’s a lot of pressure he’s put on himself, to be better than himself. But even if he skated like that and made one mistake, he’d still have it all over the other men.”

“Patrick Chan is having somewhat of a slow comeback. He was great at Skate Canada and rough at Grand Prix France in the short program. Javi is great and wonderful, but he does consistently make mistakes. I think if you’re comparing those top three guys at the moment, Yuzu is the one to beat. And he is almost untouchable, if he can deliver like that [in Japan]. But he’s got Shoma Uno, who also is skating very well, gets big scores. But I don’t know if Shoma is quite ready to outscore Yuzuru.”

“You can definitely call Shoma Uno and Boyang Jin the rookies of the Grand Prix Final, it’s both of their first Grand Prix Finals, so it’s an obvious thing to say that. But in two [Grand Prix series] competitions they were both able to put out so many wonderful quads, quad Lutz being the most important. … If we’re considering that Yuzu can skate the same as he did at the Grand Prix of Japan, and everyone’s fighting for second, I wouldn’t mind predicting Shoma Uno as a possible silver medalist.”

MORE: Weir ranks Hanyu’s record skates with his all-time favorites

Pairs Field
Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford
— Canada
Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov — Russia
Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov — Russia
Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim — U.S.
Yu Xiaoyu/Jin Yang — China
Julianna Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau — Canada
Peng Cheng/Zhang Hao — China

Preview
The World champions Duhamel and Radford were the only pair to win both of their qualifying events, but both Russian pairs were within two points of the Canadians’ top score this fall.

Notably absent are Olympic champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov and World silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, done for the fall due to injuries.

Scimeca and Knierim are the first U.S. pair to make the Grand Prix Final since 2007.

Lipinski’s Take
“What’s exciting is we’re missing a few of the top teams, and that’s a great opportunity for these other skaters, especially now having a U.S. team in the mix, for U.S. pairs that is such a milestone. Are [Scimeca and Knierim] going to win this event? Probably not, but I think this is sort of the time for them to start wedging their way into the top pack of pairs skaters. Meagan and Eric, I love them, there is just something that just sets their skating apart from every other team. It’s always so hard to predict who’s going to come out on top, but I think that they have it.”

Weir’s Take
“I am in love with the programs of Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov from Russia. They haven’t been so consistent this year, but what they have is a style and a presence that’s very, not sultry, but very empowered and very powerful to the audience. If they can get their technical elements together, I definitely think they’re my favorite to take the title. But expect strong performances from Duhamel/Radford. And it’s very exciting that Scimeca and Knierim are in the Final as well. I don’t know how they’ll factor into the medals at the Grand Prix Final, but it’s certainly wonderful that American pairs is back, stepping in the right direction with this team.”

MORE: Ashley Wagner eyes history at Grand Prix Final after ‘disaster’ in Japan

Scott Brosius to take USA Baseball managerial job, replacing Joe Girardi

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Just one month before the Premier 12, a tournament giving the U.S. baseball team an opportunity to qualify for the 2020 Olympics, USA Baseball has announced a managerial switch.

USA Baseball executive Scott Brosius, who won three World Series with the New York Yankees from 1998 to 2000 and had a slugging percentage of .529 in four World Series appearances, will take over in place of Joe Girardi. USA Baseball said Girardi has stepped down to focus on opportunities in Major League Baseball.

Brosius was previously named to serve as the team’s bench coach. Several other coaches have been reshuffled, with Willie Randolph moving to bench coach, Ernie Young moving to third base and 2000 gold medalist Anthony Sanders joining the staff to coach at first base. Left unchanged: hitting coach Phil Plantier, pitching coach Bryan Price and bullpen coach Roly de Armas.

The U.S. team will play the Netherlands, host Mexico and the Dominican Republic, starting Nov. 2. The top two teams from the group will advance to the six-team Super Round in Japan.

The top finisher from the Americas region and the top finisher from Asia/Oceania (except Japan, which has an automatic bid as host) will qualify for the Olympic baseball tournament. The U.S. will have two more opportunities to qualify after that.

The U.S. won silver in the first Premier 12 tournament in 2015. As in 2015, the U.S. will not use players on MLB 40-man rosters.

PREMIER 12: Roster

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Taylor Phinney picks creativity over cycling, ending race career to focus on art

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Three-time Olympian and two-time world champion Taylor Phinney announced Wednesday that he is retiring from cycling and will pursue his other passion — art. 

“I want to say thank you to everyone that has cheered me on and sent me good energy over the last twelve years!” Phinney said via Instagram. “I appreciate you all. Alas, in the battle between Art and Sport, ART WON.”

Phinney is the son of two decorated Olympians. Davis Phinney won bronze in the team time trial, which is no longer contested in the Olympics, in 1984. Connie Carpenter-Phinney was an Olympic speedskater who switched sports to win the cycling road race, also in 1984.

Like his father, who won Tour de France stages in 1986 and 1987, Phinney went back and forth between track and road cycling, winning world championship medals in each discipline and racing in both sports in the Olympics. He made his Olympic debut at age 18, taking seventh on the track in the individual pursuit.

His biggest successes on the track followed over the next two years, when he won the 2009 world championship in the individual pursuit and defended his title in 2010. He also took silver in the 1km time trial in 2009 and bronze in the omnium in 2010.

After switching to road racing, he won the prologue in the 2012 Giro d’Italia. He then came close to two Olympic medals, placing fourth in the time trial behind a who’s who of road cycling — Bradley Wiggins, Tony Martin and Chris Froome, two of whom were racing on home soil. In the road race, he placed fourth again, in the same time as bronze medalist Alexander KristoffA few weeks later, Phinney rebounded to take two silver medals in the individual and team time trials at the world championships.

His career was threatened when he suffered a compound fracture on a harrowing descent in the 2014 U.S. Championships, but he recovered to take gold in the team time trial in the 2015 world championships and silver in the same event the next year. He also debuted in the Tour de France in 2017 and offered the occasional behind-the-scenes look at life in the three-week race.

But he hasn’t been as active in the last two years. In 2018, he was eighth in the legendary one-day Paris-Roubaix race. This year, he won the team time trial in the Tour of Colombia but has no other major results.

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Yoooo hey hi hello ! So yes, I’m happy to announce that I am hanging up my professional road cycling cleats at the end of this season… I want to say thank you to everyone that has cheered me on and sent me good energy over the last twelve years! I appreciate you all. . Alas, in the battle between Art and Sport, ART WON. I’m so happy and genuinely excited—almost giddy at the prospect of being able to CREATE full time. My heart is full and I look forward to sharing what the future brings with whoever wants to follow. . As far as cycling goes…I’m more in love with bikes now than I have ever been before. My body is very relieved now that it knows that I will not be punishing it to the fullest extent of my capabilities 😅. My mind is refreshed from a summer of adventure and my heart is opening at a rate that terrifies me in the best of ways! I am so grateful to this sport for the teachings I’ve received, the connections I’ve made, and the stories I can share from the crazy days on the bike. . I want to thank all my friends in the peloton and I wish you all the best of luck. I will let you know what it is like on the other side 🙂

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Phinney’s art, a mix of abstraction and words, shows little influence from his cycling career. He also has launched a site and Instagram feed for his art under the name Manifest Butter.

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